Culture is impossible to measure precisely, because it can’t be distilled. But while I was reporting for The Culture Code, I came across a cool culture-assessment hack. It comes from someone who knows a few things about starting and sustaining a healthy culture: restaurateur Danny Meyer, who founded Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, and Shake Shack, and many other successful ventures. Here’s Meyer’s method:
Step 1: wait for a problem
Step 2: monitor the group’s energy level, to see if it goes up or down
On the morning I met with Meyer at one of his restaurants, we got to witness a problem. A waiter dropped a tray of glasses with a huge crash. It was a giant mess.
As the other waiters started reacting, Meyer explained: “One of two things will happen. Either the people will work together well, and the energy level will end up being higher than when they started. Or, there will be subtle signals of blame, resentment, and anger, and the energy level will drop lower than before the problem.”
That’s it. Energy up, or energy down. If it goes up, Meyer says, the group’s culture is strong. If it goes down, it’s not.
On the day we watched, the energy level went up, and Meyer smiled. The culture was strong. And the larger truth was clear: Every interaction matters when it comes to culture — especially those around solving problems.